Monday, 23 May 2016

TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones - The Door


With the eventual denouement seemingly edging closer, it seems all bets are off concerning character survival, something which was underlined this week with the heartbreaking death of a fan favourite. It was a powerful ending to the episode, and the ripples will be felt in more ways than one.

But first, an important meeting between Sansa and Littlefinger (with Brienne in tow), where Sansa beautifully called him out for selling her to Ramsay and her making it explicitly clear what he did to her - "he knew he needed my face so he left that, but he committed horrors to the rest of me" (a paraphrase, but you get the idea). Baelish was in begging mode, but Sansa would not accept his please to allow her to have the army of the Vale, but cleverly keeping information from him for her own use. It turns out Brynden the Blackfish (hooray!) has been gathering forces to rally to the Stark cause, and with many other houses joining Bolton, they need all the help they can get.

Arya's story continues to make me sad, with her being given an assignment to assassinate an actress. No ordinary actress however; she is actually playing Cersei in a comedy dramatisation of the first couple of seasons, with Richard E. Grant as Robert Baratheon and the amazing Kevin Eldon as a supremely dimwitted Ned Stark. Arya is forced to watch this while in recon mode, and it's a heartwrenching moment, not least because she's seeing these events replayed but because it reminds her of her family in a time where she's trying to forget to be Arya Stark. And she may not be her, but I still want her to be, to fight with her sister and brother (half-brother).

In Mereen, Tyrion and Varys met up with Kinvana, another red priestess who believes Dany is the promised one. She agreed to help spread the word of Dany's involvement in the current state of peace, but had a lovely spar with Varys, who brought up Melisandre's role in Stannis' downfall. But it turns out she knows a lot, especially about Varys, and he seemed surprisingly unnerved considering his usual constitution. In Vaes Dothrak we saw a probable farewell to another character, as Jorah revealed his greyscale to a distraught Dany. She ordered him to find a cure and return when he did, but it felt more like an excuse for not saying goodbye, almost like an honourable discharge. Will we ever see Jorah again?

The Greyjoy story took an interesting turn at the Kingsmoot, where Euron won the salt throne thanks to a plan to meet up with Dany and offer her support and his fleet. Yara wasn't too happy about this, so scarpered with all the good ships, probably a good idea since Euron's post coronation words were "Where are my niece and nephew? Let's go murder them."

And then it came to Bran, the most consistently interesting story that here took an even more intriguing turn, with lots to unpack. Vision questing all over the place, he discovered that the children of the forest created the white walkers to protect their world against man, and went on a solo warg only to find himself in front of the Night's King. Unfortunately, he grabbed Bran and left his mark on him, allowing him to lead his army straight to the raven's lair, resulting in a fantastic action sequence reminiscent of Aliens, with a child of the forest doing a straight Vasquez to save an escaping Bran, Meera, and Hodor.

Hodor. Hodor. Poor Hodor. What a tragedy. In order to grab Bran to escape, Hodor needed a helping hand, but Bran was deep in a vision at Winterfell, seeing Ned sent to the Vale. But while Meera was able to get through to Bran, he didn't wake up, so warged into Hodor while being back in the past. While this was happening, we saw past Hodor drop to the ground in warg mode, and when they got out of the tree, Hodor needed to stop the remaining wight horde. Meera's words "hold the door" echoed through time, and were repeated by past Hodor to a point where they stopped being the phrase and simply became "Hodor". Thus we had an origin story and a death scene simoultaneously, but a heroic yet tragic ending for Hodor.

Bran's actions introduce a new dimension, something only hinted at previously, namely being able to affect the future through the past. It remains to be seen just exactly how this will come in to play from here on, but it was a fascinating cap to a great episode. There was excellent action, with a wonderful display of actual magic of a kind, with the children of the forest versus the white walkers (fire versus ice), as well as character moments like Sansa standing up to Littlefinger. But still no Lyanna - hopefully with the season at the halfway point they won't wait until the end to return to the Tower of Joy, but there's one question - will Bran be able to have the visions without the Raven?

Hodor, Hodor. Hodor.

- Charlie

You can read Charlie's look at previous episode, Book of the Stranger, here.

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FEATURE: Angel - To Shanshu in LA

Previously on Angel: During a daring raid on Wolfram & Hart with the help of Lindsey McDonald, Angel grabs a scroll for no discernible reason. Meanwhile, Lindsey had the opportunity to leave his employers alive, but instead opted for a considerable raise.

Wesley continues to work on the prophecy that Angel brought back with him from Wolfram & Hart and reveals that it is possibly fated for Angel to die. Rather than worry about it, Angel simply carries on with his usual occupation of saving people. However, the lawyers have a plan on the horizon, something called 'The Raising' and summon a big bad wormy dude to take care of Angel. When he promises to strip Angel of his connection to the Powers That Be, he really goes to town and Wesley and Cordelia's lives hang in the balance.

As finales go, To Shanshu in LA is not your typical, but then, the first season hasn't been particularly typical at any point. There's no real Big Bad to rally against, nor is there a discernible apocalypse to stop. Instead, the focus is on how Angel has now become reliant on his team, having moved from the loner that Doyle clung to in the beginning to the man concerned for his friends and willing to save them at any cost. It's also a pretty big hint towards his growing feelings for Cordelia, something that will bubble under the surface for a while yet.

That intimate focus gives the episode a stronger purpose than simply fighting a bad guy. It makes the world feel bigger, the stakes higher and the consequences more severe. David Boreanaz has to do some emotional heavy lifting here and it really works to illustrate Angel's concern for his friends. I love his final brush off to Kate, partly because it's a good measure of his determination and also because Kate has become such an irritating little role, cropping up at weird crime scenes to pseudo-moralise and look a bit peeved. She's the only weak link in this episode, but thankfully, Angel gives her a good talking to.

The character work elsewhere is lovely and neatly done too. Cordelia, so often seeing her role with Angel as a paycheck rather than a lifestyle, is suddenly subjected to the howls of pain in the city as her mind is opened up by Wormy Dude. It gives her a new sense of perspective, a much more selfless one that shifts her to see her work with Angel as both a necessity and a calling. It's a big development for her. She spent much of her time with the Scoobies resenting her role within the gang, often only helping out begrudgingly when it became clear the end of the world is at stake. Here though, she finally rises to the challenge and even starts making sandwiches.

The wider ramifications of the Shanshu prophecy add to the finale's sense of urgency. Wesley's little mistranslation of it to suggest that Angel is careening towards his death is a brief loss of meaning for Angel. He's already dead so it has no consequences for him and in this frame of mind, redemption is for little more than quenching his own guilt. However, discovering that it might lead to him becoming human again gives both the character and the show something to work towards. It's a positive, heroic endpoint. Naturally it becomes a little complicated as Angel's story to develop, but it gives the show a more concrete focus, something which will only benefit it as it moves forward.

Finally, there's that Darla reveal at the end. It's such a cool season cliffhanger that I almost wish I hadn't seen the rest of the show, just to get really excited about the first episode of the second season. Julie Benz has always been one of the Buffyverse's more memorable recurring characters and I'm looking forward to seeing her around again. Plus, it also means Drusilla will show up some point soon and that's always good for a laugh.

So we have reached the end of Angel's first season. Like the companion fourth season of Buffy, there has been quite the variation in quality, largely due to its need to establish itself as something of the same world, but also very different. Naturally, Angel couldn't go for the same kind of experimentation we see in Buffy''s fourth season, but it's something that has worked well to balance the two shows. The second season will be a little dodgy, but the show does begin to grow in confidence now that it has set out its parameters and darker, bloodier atmosphere. Poor Lindsey eh? Someone give him a hand...


Quote of the Week:

Wesley: Uhh... oops. I may have made a tiny mistake. The word 'shanshu' that I said meant you were going to die? Actually I think it means you're going to live.
Cordelia: Ok as tiny mistakes go, that's not one!

Let's Get Trivial: The episode title is a reference to the film To Live and Die in LA as 'shanshu' is revealed to mean 'to live and to die.'

You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Blind Date, here.

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Saturday, 21 May 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Trio by Sue Gee

Trio is set in 1930s Northumberland and follows a history teacher, Steven Coulter, in the years following the untimely death of his young wife. As grief takes a solid hold, Steven finds himself pulled into the world of his colleague, Frank Embleton, whose sister, Diana, performs in a trio of local musicians with George Liddell and Margot Heslop. Steven slowly starts to form relationships with the new people in his life and finds a way to move on from his grief. However, with war looming on the horizon, their hazy, romantic view of the world is soon shattered.

The wonderful thing about being a voracious reader is that you come across an extraordinary variety of novels; some difficult, some tricksy, some light and so on. Sometimes though, you just need the literary equivalent of a comfort blanket. Sue Gee's Trio is exactly that, a poignant look at a group of friends moving through time. There's a nice depth to it at all times, weaving its narrative through its context and exploring both the hazy happy periods and the slow violence of grief and loss.

There are several different layers operating at all times throughout Gee's novel as she traces the development of the relationships within. Various moments in the novel are punctuated by references to the build-up to the Second World War or the ongoing Spanish Civil War. They are short, sharp shocks to the country idyll that you become enveloped within. The various deaths that arrive throughout the narrative operate on a similar level, whether it's the long-awaited and dreaded expiration of Margaret, suffering from tuberculosis, or the suddenness of others elsewhere.

Time beats a rhythm throughout the novel, sometimes flitting ahead at a staccato pace, at others, slowing down to spend time with the characters at a specific moment in their life. It is a relentless progression though, no matter the pace, and a constant reminder that all things must come to an end at some point. It all comes to a wonderful head in the closing chapters of Trio, a conclusion which is at once both melancholic and hopeful, a testament to the endurance of human relationships and the hollow space that can sometimes be left behind.

Another crucial and successful aspect of Gee's narrative is the attention to detail she offers when it comes to the characters' lives. The broad strokes of the military movements form the background to intensely personal moments such as the focal points of Steven's grief; Margaret's coat, still on its hook after her death, forms an anchor throughout Steven's story, something he keeps returning to despite moving on elsewhere. There is also attention paid weird little synergies that life sometimes throws at you, like the similarity between Margaret and Margot's names. These details keep the novel operating on a rich yet personal level.

The elegance with which Gee orchestrates these elements is what makes Trio such a gentle read, both heartwarming and heart-wrenching in equal measure. The focus on those universal experiences of love and grief transcend its period setting to produce something deeply human.

Trio is available from Salt Publishing here.

- Becky

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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Restless

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles magically combined to take down Adam and the Initiative, invoking the power of the First Slayer to do so. 

Usually this is the point of the review where I give you all a little plot breakdown to remind you of what goes on in the episode. It might not be all the details, but just enough to jog your memory. For Restless, there's not really a whole lot of plot to sum up; Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles settle in for a night of movies after they take down the Initiative, still feeling wired. Alas, they upset the First Slayer with their spell and she tries to kill them in their dreams. That's pretty much it, but the meat of Restless does not lie within its plot, but rather in everything else.

It would be absolutely impossible for me to talk about all the things I love or that are of note in Restless because it's so densely packed with thematic content, character exploration and that all important Buffy hallmark of foreshadowing. Dreams in this world have always functioned as a form of prophecy, particularly for Buffy herself, so it's fitting that we have one such narrative entirely constructed around what has been and what is coming takes place within a dreamscape. It's an episode that only gets richer on repeat viewings as a result, something which many instalments can boast, but not to quite the same levels. Later watches tend to be reference spotting, but my first watch was mainly revelling in how surreal and comical everything felt. A prime example is Buffy offering Xander popcorn:

"Butter flavour?"
"New car smell."

It's also an episode that gets a lot funnier when you've seen Death of a Salesman. Many dream sequences in television often feel a little too well crafted to really embody the random twists and turns dreams can take. Restless manages to keep that sense of unpredictability for the most part; it's tautly wound chaos, capable of spinning off in different directions as required. Whilst it's very amusing to hear these exchanges and to witness the kind of bonkers delights Whedon comes up with, there's also a lot of deeper work going on when it comes to exploring the characters and their relationships with the world around them. 

Willow's dream is positively brimming over with her various neuroses, but also foreshadowing for the character. There's even a nod back to her disastrous performance in Madame Butterfly from the first season episode, Nightmares. The big theme across her dream is the idea of her true self and people (including a cameo-ing Oz) make references to others finding out who she really is. The end of her dream indicates she still feels like the high school geek that everyone makes fun of behind her back. However, in hindsight, it's easy to see those comments as nods towards her future as a powerful, and briefly evil, witch and her addiction to magic that she works hard to keep hidden from everyone. Tara also notes that we don't know everything about her yet, something which will crop up again in the episode Family.

The erotic element to Xander's dream speaks a lot to how he's always treated the women around him, mainly that they're sex objects, even, perhaps disturbingly, Buffy's mom. Additionally, it also demonstrates his own feeling of inadequacy in the face of them, how he feels stuck in his basement and that he's of no help to his friends. The military aspect of his dream builds out from the history of the character as well as becoming another system in which he feels trapped. As if to really make the point that his journey is dark and aimless, there's Snyder at the end of it to confirm how pointless he is in the scheme of things. But he's the 'comfortador', a role that will become increasingly important in the show's later seasons.

Giles' dream is perhaps the clearest, simply because his role in the show is relatively straight-forward. He's the father figure for Buffy and their fairground night out in the cemetery reiterates that for everyone. Even his antagonistic relationships have an element of the paternal in them, such as his scene with Spike on the swings (Spike's wearing the suit he'd later wear in Tabula Rasa as well as Giles commenting that he's like a son to him). His big moment of the episode though is the classic Exposition Song (look out for composer Christophe Beck on the piano - also a quick shout-out to his awesome score), possibly Giles' greatest scene not involving a sombrero. He does his usual role of getting the audience up to speed on the episode bad guy and giving out instructions to the others, but via the medium of song (see Quote of the Week for some lyrics, obviously).

"Come on, put your back into it. A Watcher scoffs at gravity!"

Buffy's dream is the most important one when it comes to foreshadowing and as such, definitely didn't make very much sense upon first viewing. Her conversations with Tara, representing herself and the First Slayer, hint to Buffy's path for the fifth season. She's referred to as 'killer' several times by Riley, who goes on to leave her on her own. A lot of the fourth season has been exploring the successes and weaknesses inherent in being a Slayer with friends. Despite the magical joining spell that saw them all make up and take down evil last week, the message here is that Buffy, at the end, will be on her own. Tara cryptically states: "You think you know... What's to come... What you are. You haven't even begun" hinting towards Buffy's exploration of her Slayer heritage in the coming season.

The source of Buffy's power will become increasingly important now as the seasons develop and of course, there's a new character on the horizon: "Be back before Dawn..." Not only that, but we also have another nod to Buffy's impending demise, something which might not be apparent to any first time viewers of the episode. The focus on the incorrect clock in Buffy's room is a deliberate reference to her death. Back in her Graduation Day dream, Faith warns of something "counting down to 7-3-0." Buffy would die approximately 730 days after that initial warning. When Tara states that the clock is wrong, she is indicating that Buffy no longer has 730 days.

Hush was probably the moment when Buffy the Vampire Slayer truly started to embrace the more experimental aspect, but it's Restless that really runs with it, producing a season finale that is both wholly unconventional and entirely fantastic. It's a bold move to put something like this as a finale and it's a complete oddball of an episode, but it's an experiment that pays dividends for fans returning to the show. And so we come to the end of this season, which is the most consistently inconsistent of Buffy's entire run. When the story has focused on the Initiative, the interest waned, but episodes like Hush, Something Blue and Pangs keep the show going and Restless is the surrealist icing on the cake.

So after saying it would be impossible to talk about everything in this episode, I managed to give it a damn good go. It's hard to do it justice really, so layered is it as a piece of work. But what's this? I didn't mention the Cheese Man. He wears the cheese. It does not wear him.

Quote of the Week:

Giles: "I've got to warn Buffy / there's every chance she might be next / And Xander and Willow / Try not to bleed on my couch / I've just had it steam-cleaned..."

Let's Get Trivial: This is the show's only episode to begin straight away with the opening titles and not with a cold open.

Demonology 101: This is only the first appearance of the First Slayer. She will return later when Buffy embarks on her vision quest to learn more about her origins.

Sunnydale Who's Who: Originally this episode was to feature far more cameos than it eventually ended up with (just Oz, Olivia, Harmony and Snyder). Those supposed to appear were Jenny Calendar, Larry, Faith and Amy, with Angel and Cordelia having been written into the episode only to be taken out again once scheduling with Angel became too difficult.

- Becky

You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Primeval, here.

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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

FEATURE: Angel - Blind Date

Previously on Angel: Angel's been causing problems for some shadier-than-normal lawyers from Wolfram & Hart whose previous efforts to stop him have been thwarted. Angel's also made an unlikely ally in the form of homeless street fighter, Charles Gunn.

Angel's on a routine patrol when he witnesses a blind woman, Vanessa Brewer, assassinate a man in front of him. He finds out that she's on trial and attempts to demonstrate her abilities by throwing her sunglasses back to her, which she catches without seemingly ever knowing they're coming. Of course, she's represented by Wolfram & Hart, Lindsey specifically, and she is acquitted of all charges. It turns out Lindsey's a bit of a rising star in the firm and as a result of this victory, he's offered another case when he's told that Vanessa will be employed to kill three children for undisclosed reasons. It's a step too far for the lawyer and he turns to Angel for help.

One of the main reasons I like this episode so much is that it gives me a chance to talk about Lindsey. Lindsey is one of the more fascinating characters of Angel's world, simply because he never quite operates within the same boundaries as everyone else. He can move freely between being good and evil as his situation dictates, but in the end, he will always be a slave to his ambition. Take this episode for instance; standing by whilst kids are killed is not something his rather dubious morality can tolerate, so he switches sides. However, in doing so, he witnesses the real power over life and death that his bosses wield and when they offer him a second chance, he takes it, returning to the darker side of the fence because it's tactically advantageous to do so.

It makes him unpredictable as the show continues because his boundaries are never quite clear to anyone but himself. He knows what he does is wrong, but he also knows what standing by looks like as this episode illustrates. He's a child of poverty and misfortune, someone who has had to claw their way out of a hole in order to have the kind of freedom denied to him. He's the dark, twisted embodiment of the American Dream, one of the few examples of this that the show offers us. 

Blind Date is a more sombre affair than we've seen recently, but it has a couple of really cool set pieces at its heart. The big one is of course the Wolfram & Hart heist that we see Angel and Lindsey pull off with the help of the returning Gunn. It's an elegant mix of comedy (mainly from Gunn's angry black man routine) and the kind of suave burglary you'd expect from Angel. Rather than beat up the demon guarding the vault, he simply blows a Wesley-concocted powder at it and tips it over. It's a nice comic beat in the heart of an otherwise dark episode, but one which will also prove to be a defining one.

Yes, as he goes to exit the vault, Angel notices an old scroll and picks it up for no other reason than he thinks he should. As Wesley reveals at the end of the episode, it contains writings on a vampire with a soul and possibly more information about Angel's place in the world. It's something that he's been struggling to find, particularly since his return from Hell, and this could point him in the way. Earlier in the episode, he finds himself frustrated by the powerlessness he feels in the face of a human world that Wolfram & Hart have got rigged. His vampirism hampers him from doing the best he can, but it also allows him to operate outside that system.

Somewhat helpfully, it's the first episode in a while where all successful parts of Angel have been firing at the same time (it certainly gives me far more to talk about than War Zone did). Though we don't see much of Cordy and Wes, they're both settled into their respective roles and work their way through the exposition with ease. But it's in the dark morality at the heart of the episode that the show really finds its feet. Angel chooses to fight his fight because he can and because it can offer him the redemption he seeks. Lindsey fights only when he has to. Their different views clash spectacularly here, but the two final scenes, where Lindsey accepts his new job and Angel watches over his city, is a perfect encapsulation of both. 

Quote of the Week:

Lindsey: I get myself killed, that'll convince you I've changed?
Angel: It'll be a start.

Inventive Kill: Angel suspends a vampire by the neck with a chain and then uses the pulley system to stake the vampire on a slat sticking out of a pile of pallets. Mad skillz.

LA Who's Who: Jennifer Badger, who plays Vanessa Brewer, was a stunt double for both Charisma Carpenter and Eliza Dushku across both series.

The Sunnydale Connection: When Cordelia comes up against encrypted files, she naturally calls in the wiz, Willow. The half-heard conversation is lovely; "Willow says hey!"

- Becky

You can check out Becky's look at previous episode, War Zone, here.

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BOOK REVIEW: Bodies of Water by V.H. Leslie

Bodies of Water splits its narrative between two women and their respective time periods. Evelyn has been working with fallen women in Victorian London, but the work and the relationships she forms within it have taken their toll. She is sent to be treated at Wakewater Hall, a hydropathy establishment nestled alongside the Thames. In the present day, Kirsten has recently split from her boyfriend and has bought an apartment in the ongoing conversion of Wakewater Hall. As she learns more about the history of the building and of the fates of Victorian drowned women, she finds herself haunted by a mysterious figure and enraptured by the water that surrounds her.

Bodies of Water is V.H. Leslie's debut novel, though she is already a veteran of the short story, releasing a collection entitled Skein and Bone just last year. The ability to create a world in a smaller space is an advantage here as Leslie quickly establishes both women, their respective plights and, most importantly, the cloying atmosphere that dominates much of the narrative. She has a clear and keen understanding of the virtues of the Gothic genre and clearly revels in the opportunity to explore it on her own terms.

The richness of the world that Leslie creates, as well as the atmosphere she maintains throughout, leaves you wanting more as a reader to sink down into the depths of Bodies of Water and become completely immersed. There are several moments where it feels as if they should be longer, more drawn out. Leslie does an excellent job of sketching the characters, both past and present, but they and their relationships could be explored further. It's a narrative that you can't put down (I read it in practically one sitting), but equally, it's one that you don't want to end, simply because it's so fascinating to explore.

It's a novel of liminal spaces and blurred boundaries, where Victorian restrictions intersect with the relative freedoms of contemporary living. In the wrong hands (and forgive the pun), the waters could have easily become muddied and confusing. Instead, Leslie acknowledges that the same environments would hold different meanings for both Kirsten and Evelyn whilst also demonstrating their similarities. They both see a figure loitering on the riverbank, but her presence signifies a deeper horror for Evelyn than it does for Kirsten. That figure is one of three things to freely travel between the two time periods, the others are the water that flows through the novel and the shared location of Wakewater Hall. The three work in tandem with each other to tease out Kirsten and Evelyn's respective experiences of this haunted little corner of the Thames.

The water is a mercurial presence throughout the novel, pouring through the pages and seeping into every aspect of the story. It's neither friend or foe, but capable of acting as both a weapon or a refuge depending upon what is needed. The character of Manon functions as an expository figure, opining on the cultural link between water and femininity as well as the way in which men have exploited the bodies of women found within the water itself. Both Kirsten and Evelyn find themselves interacting with it in different ways, sometimes as a healing force, but more often as a destructive one. It gives their interactions with the water a sense of unpredictability, something which Leslie utilises throughout the narrative to ensure readers are left guessing until the end.

A chief component of the book's success is the location, Wakewater Hall itself, intimidating, creepy and shrouded in mystery. There's a very traditionally Gothic sense of moral decay, manifested in the dilapidated shell on Kirsten's renovated apartment doorstep. It's a work in progress, but one which seems to be actively resisting improvement with seemingly random leaks and noises in its walls. Leslie imbues the Hall with a real sense of history and menace in both its Victorian and present day form. Though it is never described in minute detail, Leslie gives the reader just enough to let their imagination run, hearing the rumble of the pipes or the fountain jets echoing through its corridors. 

Relishing in its genre coding and richly atmospheric, Bodies of Water is a fascinating debut and demonstrates the promise of V.H. Leslie as a novelist. It's a book for reading by the fire with a blanket ready to draw around yourself as the brilliant chill sets in and takes hold.

Bodies of Water is available from Salt Publishing.

- Becky

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TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones - Book of the Stranger


Well, Dany doesn't call herself "The Unburnt" for fun, something the Khals of Dothraki found out this week in an episode dominated by women in power. To be fair to our white-haired dragonrider, she was given three options: stay in Vaes Dothrak as part of the Dosh Kahleen, be traded to slave masters for a bunch of horses (ten thousand, admittedly), or continually raped by the Khals, their bloodriders, and their horses. Dany went for door number four - flaming death - and burned her male captors alive in their hut, herself emerging from the fire to the rest of the Khalasar, who immediately and familiary bowed to her. I can't wait to see the face on the slavers in Mereen when she shows up with a Dothraki horde.

This episode could have been billed as a family reunion special, with many reconnections both joyous (Sansa and Jon), awkward (Yara and Theon), and pitiful (Margaery and Loras). But the truth is that all of the ladies had the upper hand in terms of strength here, with the boys putting in a pretty poor showing. It was wonderful to see Sansa turn up at Castle Black to see Jon, but there is still something very wrong with him, mainly due to him being haunted of his betrayal. It's not difficult to sympathise, there's something terribly existenstial about being obsessed with the moment that killed you. But after a threatening note from Ramsay saying he wants Sansa back or he'll pretty much do everything evil you can imagine, it was her taking charge and convincing Jon that they need to go and take Winterfell back.

Meanwhile, Margaery finally had a meeting with the High Sparrow who fed her the same junk he's fed others, and she was briefly allowed to see a broken Loras, who was ready to give in. But Margaery is a schemer, and she knows the Sparrow is up to something, as does her mother and Cersei, who along with the small council (i.e. Kevan and Jaime) are planning to make sure her walk of atonement doesn't happen, and the Sparrow and his, um, sparrowlings end up very dead. This sounds like a very stupid plan and confirms that after Tywin's passing they all together have the tactical nuance of Hot Pie.

Poor Theon returned home emasculated (literally) and was immediately and understandably torn down by Yara, who eventually went a bit easier on him when she figured out he wasn't there to get in her way of leadership. About the only men who went unscathed was Tyrion, who admittedly got a rollicking from Missandei and Grey Worm after agreeing to bring back slavery for seven years, and Littlefinger, who told brave Ser Robin that they should pledge the knights of the Vale to Sansa's fight. Considering Jon only has two thousand wildlings, this may be a much needed boost, although obviously Littlefinger is not to be trusted. There's also the question of if the Karstarks etc are actually on the side of the Direwolf or the Flayed Man.

The only thing that was really missed was Bran's vision quest, although I imagine that's been slowed down a bit considering how close they are to revealing R + L = J. But everything else is poised well; Sansa and Jon off to take on Ramsay, the Lannisters about to see if they can stop the High Sparrow, and Dany, who should really start to actually make it westward now she has the Dothraki behind her. Sorry Khal Bongo, but you just happened to be in an episode where the girls rule and the boys drool. Long may that continue.

- Charlie

You can read Charlie's review of the previous episode, Oathbreaker, here.

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